Dogs are highly social animals well suited to living in groups, whether canine, human or a combination of both. But socialization goes way beyond hanging with pals at the dog park. Socializing a dog, especially a rescue dog, means helping the dog become comfortable in all manner of situations. From the youngest puppies to more mature mutts, rescues have special needs when it comes to socializing.
Every dog has its own unique history
The key time frame for dog socialization is the critical period between three and 16 weeks old. This is when many dog owners take the time and apply patience to socialize their puppies. But for young dogs and older rescues, there can be different challenges. With unknown histories, abilities and anxieties, a rescue dog may need to be carefully introduced to experiences and situations we take for granted every day.
Sometimes, a rescue organization has an idea of where their dogs come from. However, many organizations such as Dog Tales or Save Our Scruff take in dogs from all over the world. Humane Societies and SPCAs across Canada have a myriad of dogs up for adoption and, again, may or may not know their histories. A dog used to roaming the countryside may not appreciate living in an apartment. Rural dogs may need to acclimate to the sounds and smells of urban living, from construction to traffic. Likewise, city dogs need to learn the rules of the countryside, and get used to farm animals or wildlife.
Some dogs may have had negative experiences which may cause them to act out. “Aggressive” behaviour may actually be your dog’s way of showing fear, or trying to defend itself against a perceived threat. If your dog barks and lunges, or growls and snarls, you may want to consult a behaviour specialist to help with socialization techniques. Hesitant does not equal defensive, so be sure to take it slowly and gradually build up your pet’s confidence.
Watch for signs in your dog’s body language
When introducing your rescue dog to your world, let the dog set the pace. The key to understanding your dog is getting to know their body language. The way they hold themselves or react to stimuli is the dog’s way of communicating any fears or discomfort they may have. Signs of anxiety, discomfort or fear include:
- Tucked tail
- Flattened ears
- Lip licking or nose licking (typically done a few times in a row)
- Excessive yawning
- Crouched body
- Attempting to dart or hide
- Raised hackles (hair standing on end on the neck and/or spine)
Don’t Push It
Take cues from your dog. Putting your new rescue into situations before they are ready is likely to backfire. Aside from shutting down or becoming overly stimulated, your dog may experience negative associations with whatever it was you were trying to introduce them to. Move slowly, graduating from easy to more challenging situations and exposures over time. A relaxed dog is able to learn better and faster than one who is stressed or with heightened anxiety.
Positive Reinforcement is Key
Positivity works best with dogs. Praise, rewards and treats are the most effective ways to encourage good behaviour. Keep encounters with other dogs brief. If your dog seems comfortable, allow him to sniff and then move on, praising him once you’ve passed by. The longer you hang around another dog, the more likely it is that one (or both) of the dogs will become overstimulated. If your dog is having a hard time adjusting to her new life, try to soothe rather than scold. Screaming or berating a nervous dog will only exacerbate any issues. More importantly, have patience. Some dogs become socialized within days, while others may take several months, or even longer. Before you give up on your pet, talk to your vet or canine behaviour specialist. They are there to help ease the transition from rescue dog to beloved family member.
Check out these articles for more information and tips
- What to consider when adopting a dog in Canada
- Tips for socializing your rescue dog
- How to build a bond with your dog
- Inspiration for naming your new puppy
Featured Image via Pixabay